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Who Killed the Romantic Comedy?

Rom-coms used to be a cash cow --and wildly popular with audiences. What happened?

The corpse lay crumpled on the conference table, close enough that the studio executive could tug on the red heel of her Louboutin. She'd been lying there unnoticed, or perhaps just ignored, for quite some time. Her wedding veil was tattered, and someone had spilled coffee on her white satin dress. A receipt had been crudely shoved in her bouquet.

Once, she'd been worth a fortune -- at least $100 million, according to her friends, who sat at home and rewatched tapes of her at her prime. Every woman had wanted to be her: Julia, Meg, Sandra, Reese. Not anymore.

The romantic comedy is dead.

Tim Gabor
Director Paul Feig with Kristen Wiig on the set of  Bridesmaids: "I've been lectured so many times by producers and people in power, 'You don't want to get pigeonholed in the whole woman thing.'"
Suzanne Hanover
Director Paul Feig with Kristen Wiig on the set of Bridesmaids: "I've been lectured so many times by producers and people in power, 'You don't want to get pigeonholed in the whole woman thing.'"

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In 1997, there were two romantic comedies among the top 20 box office performers. In 1998 and 1999, there were three. Each cracked $100 million in sales. Even as recently as 2005, five romantic comedies topped $100 million at the box office.

Contrast that with 2013: There's not one romantic comedy in the top 50 films. Not even in the top 100.

Men and women are still falling in love, of course. They're just not doing it onscreen -- and if they do, it's no laughing matter. In today's comedies, they're either casually hooking up or already married. These are comedies of exasperation, not infatuation.

It's not only that audiences are refusing to see romantic comedies. It's that romantic comedies aren't getting made, at least not by the major studios. The Big Wedding, 2013's sole boy-meets-girl-meets-matrimony comedy, was unceremoniously dumped into theaters by big indie Lionsgate and limped to No. 101 on the chart.

What happened?

As in an Agatha Christie novel, there are many suspects. Some observers blame teenagers, who aren't interested in any romance that doesn't start with a "bro" (and preferably stars two guys in capes). Others blame men who think they'll lose testosterone if they buy tickets to any movie with a whiff of chick flick about it. Still others point to the all-important foreign markets, or j'accuse ourselves, arguing that as a culture we've simply stopped believing in love.

But when we set out sleuthing for the smoking gun, the plot thickened: Those usual suspects have airtight alibis. As with any good murder mystery, the truth is both more complicated than you might have assumed -- and a whole lot simpler.

Suspect No. 1: Teenagers

Their folks can't live with them, and Hollywood can't live without them. Like helicopter parents, the big studios dote on teenagers, cranking out films to satisfy their whims and losing major bank when they can't be cajoled into buying tickets. Scanning the list of PG-13 comic book movies dominating the charts, you'd assume teens must buy the majority of tickets.

Yet it's just not so. High schoolers make up 8 percent of the population and buy 12 percent of movie tickets. They bat above their weight, but they're no guarantee of a home run. Add in the 18-to-24 crowd -- folks who can actually purchase tickets to R-rated flicks -- and together they buy only 31 percent of tickets. Even if you throw in kids under 11, they still don't have the clout to control the box office.

"Teenage boys clearly drive a portion of the box office, though their overall impact is often overstated," Box Office Mojo editor Ray Subers says. "They are far from the majority of moviegoers." Case in point: When studios try to sell exclusively to them, as with the dude-bro comedy That Awkward Moment, the movie flops.

Who actually buys tickets? Grown-ups. Adults over 25 fill 58 percent of all seats, which makes sense. Who has more disposable income: kids making minimum wage at McDonald's, or adults with a 401(k)? Studios counter that adults often choose to wait for a rental, but at least they're spending money. Teenagers are more likely to pirate films for free.

Break moviegoer age down by decade, and people between 40 and 49 purchase as many tickets as teenagers do. Senior citizens spend more than kids and tweens. And when Hollywood makes romantic comedies for older audiences, they show up: The couples in As Good as It Gets, It's Complicated, and Something's Gotta Give have an average age of 56, and each film broke $100 million.

Meryl Streep is ahead of the curve. She made a romantic comedy every year in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and each one was a hit. Yet conventional wisdom holds that movies for adults don't do well at the box office.

Director Paul Feig understands Hollywood's teenager mania firsthand, having created the high school TV series Freaks & Geeks before directing Bridesmaids and The Heat. Of Hollywood's insistence on catering to teens, he says, "I think it's turned into a catch-all. There are certain groups of people that will spend endlessly if they want to see something, and teenage boys have disposable income. But so do women and so do movie-lovers."

What's striking isn't just that adults are keeping the industry afloat -- it's that they're buying tickets even to fare that isn't made for them. Imagine if they had more options.

Suspect No. 2: Men

Men don't like romantic comedies -- or if they do, they can't admit it. A marketing executive at a major studio says that, in development meetings, there's a tacit agreement that a male "no" carries more weight than a female "yes." Why should studios risk selling guys on a romantic comedy when they can rely on guys selling their girlfriends on Transformers?

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38 comments
maith_i
maith_i

@asimburney good analysis. agree about the many reasons, though would love a movie about a realistic working love story too. Calvinator_18

darknite72
darknite72

What about 'About Last Night'? Seems pretty successful to me. But agree that good make leads are paramount.

Paul Brendan Mcgee
Paul Brendan Mcgee

all desensitizing stuff....zombie murder mystery murder cops and swat team murder war murder and glory torture murder...and on the other hand boxing and football

Jennifer Timm
Jennifer Timm

I don't suppose it could have anything to do with the fact that 99.9% of them are absolute drivel...

Kristi Marie
Kristi Marie

I've always rather go to a horror movie, even if it's bad.

John Robert Hector
John Robert Hector

Neither can i recall ANY great movie of this jargon or format ! LOL !

Brave New Hollywood
Brave New Hollywood

It wouldnt be so bad if most of them didnt suck. Let's not revive them for at least 5 yrs.

Michelle McGlone
Michelle McGlone

i just watched the notebook for the first time, and loved it!

Lee A Wells
Lee A Wells

Same old boring stories, no fresh takes on it. And Dutty's right it's always the same actor pool. The last ROM con I enjoyed was Shaun of the Dead. It is a ROM com it just takes place during a zombie outbreak.

Maynard Wallace
Maynard Wallace

Everyone is struggling to make ends meet.... no time for love movies....

Dutty D Comedian
Dutty D Comedian

you have the same actors and actresses in the same plots..it gets boring. ashton, aniston, barrymore

John DeBaun
John DeBaun

All the great comedy writers are gone , and yes Katherine Heigl !

Ryan Hopkins
Ryan Hopkins

I think it was the Doctor responsible for Meg Ryan's lip injections.

harr714
harr714

Tom Hanks killed the Romantic Comedy 

LyndaObst
LyndaObst

@davidpom2000 I guess I declined to chat, bc I can't reinforce this premise. Women killing. And it's all cyclical anyway. No rules, trends/

vpaterno
vpaterno

Write a smart script a la Ben Hecht or Preston Sturges, get the right stars interested, persuade a studio to take a chance, and the romantic comedy will be revived. Just as William Powell, Myrna Loy, Cary Grant and Carole Lombard were right for 1930s audiences, so will the proper comedic vehicles pay off for the likes of Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, et al. Heck, Anna Faris -- the heir to the funny-yet-sexy Lombard-Goldie Hawn tradition -- might make a good romantic comedy when she has some free time off her hit sitcom "Mom." 

aquariestwlight
aquariestwlight

upto I saw the paycheck ov $8515 , I didn't believe that...my... friends brother woz like they say actualy making money part-time on there computar. . there sisters neighbour has done this 4 only about 21 months and recently took care of the depts on there cottage and bourt a brand new Land Rover Defender . i was reading this

Start here>>>>>>> w­w­­w­.­b­a­y­9­1­.­C­ℴ­M

William Boyd
William Boyd

They're tapped out as a genre. They don't fit the times.

Tim Cox
Tim Cox

Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl, Dane Cook, and Gerard Butler. They killed the rom com.

Nicole Elizabeth Smith
Nicole Elizabeth Smith

when they started making those valentines day ... he's not that into you... new years eve ... movies with every single celebrity known to man it died...

Maya Garner
Maya Garner

Answer: How to Kill a Wedding Planner in 52 Dresses.

Stevart
Stevart

@darknite72 That film is the greatest RC.  It's Nora Ephron and Woody Allen that killed RC.

 

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